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Monday, 29 September 2014

Cracked Monday: Belgium's Greatest Pulp Hero

Today, in need of something lighter to take some of the weight off an otherwise heavy week-end, I present you an article on the Mysterious Appeal of Tintin.

I will add the following: Its interesting that Tintin was a boy reporter we never saw report. He solved mysteries, we never actually see him engaging in journalism.  He was, instead, a kind of Avatar for all that was the best part of the spirit of the 20th Century: he believed strongly in human rights, in good versus evil, but he quickly  learned to avoid prejudices.  He travelled all over a world that it was suddenly easier to travel around than it had ever been before.  He saw a whole mix of cultures and civilizations. He saw the wonders of what technology would bring, not just in globalization but in things like the exploration of the undersea world, and the moon. He was Jacques Cousteau and Neil Armostrong all in one. He saw the dangers of world-war but also the way that nations could avoid crises by diplomacy.

In a way, it makes sense that there's no new Tintin stories now. It wouldn't have made sense to continue them, not only because no one could match Herge's genius, but also because Tintin couldn't be the same, he'd have to have become dark or cynical or "exxxtreme!" or politically correct; and mainly, he would have had to show a doubt and lack of confidence in human spirit and progress that the real Tintin never did.  In a way Tintin represents an era of confidence in our values that almost no one of the last couple of generations believes in anymore.  They haven't been taught that way. Maybe because they have no Tintin of their own.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update: Hitler-Killing Time

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.

In this adventure, in late April '45, the PCs finally got to go to Europe (with the JSA and the All-Star Squadron); where they helped to take down Hitler.

They stole the Spear of Destiny.
They blew up the SS Black Sun HQ.

The Owl and his arch-nemesis Die Fledermaus fell into oblivion together in their Reichenbach Falls moment.

The PCs dropped Captain Nazi 1.4km from the sky, and when they saw he wasn't dead yet they did it again.

One of the PCs teamed up with Gen. Patton (who I'm pretty sure in a comic-book world counts as a metahuman) to kill a Norse Giant the black sun wizards had summoned up.

And Liberty Belle impaled Baron Blitzkrieg with a U.S. flag.

After all, it wouldn't be a Golden Age campaign if at some point they didn't trot off to Europe to kill the living fuck out of some Nazi pieces of shit.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Saturday, 27 September 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Heaven’s Shadow

This is a review of the game “Heaven’s Shadow”, written by John S. Berry III, published by Bedroom Wall Press.  Its a review of the print version, a small-sized softcover about 85 pages long. The book has a fairly simple covering that looks like something of a medieval seal or illustration; it has no interior art whatsoever.

Heaven’s Shadow is a “mini-six compatible game” that draws a lot of inspiration from biblical esoterica; the PCs in the game are “shadows”, assassins trained to hunt down the Nephilim, demonic beings that hide among mankind sewing discord, sin and destruction. Shadows come from a variety of backgrounds but all work for the Agency, a shadowy (pardon the pun) faith-based organization who’s original incarnation was founded by Shem (the guy on the cover), son of Noah, after the flood.
The Nephilim, about whom another RPG was once made, are a biblical reference: beings born of the unlawful procreation of angelic-or-demonic beings with the “daughters of men”. In the biblical story it is implied, and in the game it is explicit, that these creatures are abominations, and part of the reason for the flood was to get rid of them; but some were spared and now live in plain sight hidden amidst humanity.

In the setting, there is now more than one Agency, and the Shadows can come from any of the abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or their various sub-denominations. These Agencies disguise themselves in various forms, anything from government agencies to criminal organizations, and do not necessarily have any connection to the mainstream churches of their religion.  Even so, the game is explicitly about playing characters who have true Faith, and faith in some variant of the Abrahamic religions.  I don’t have any big issue with that, but its something that’s worth pointing out, as of course some gamers (maybe a disproportionate amount, compared to society at large) seem to have some issues with Judeo-christian religions, sometimes to the point that they wouldn’t want to play a PC who was dedicated to one of those faiths.

As mentioned above, the game’s rules run on a version of Mini-six, which is itself derived from the D6 roleplaying system (most famous, perhaps, for its iteration in the original Star Wars RPG).  All mechanics are resolved through D6 die rolls, and the system is a dice pool system in the sense that dice are added together (no “counting successes”).  Basic rolls are made against difficulty rating target numbers. If one succeeds with double or more of the Difficulty, they have a “double success”; the default of which would mean the Player gets to “narrate” some additional detail of their success; though the rules also explicitly state that a GM may choose to be the one who narrates this instead.

If a player describes some kind of special plan, improvisation or maneuver to try to resolve an action, the GM may also give him a stunt die; this die is rolled apart from the main roll, and will usually add its value to the check (“exploding” on a 6 for extra value) but on a roll of 1 it and the highest single die rolled are removed from the total value of the check, representing something going “wrong” with the stunt.
The system also includes rules for both simple and complex opposed rolls; the latter requiring multiple checks and jockeying for sufficient “advantage” to win the conflict.

Character creation is technically a kind of point-buy, where you begin with a pool of D6s that you divide into 4 attributes (might, agility, wit and charm), and then a second smaller pool that you divide among a number of skills. Skills are all tied to a specific attribute and you would add the base attribute value plus the skill value to determine what you roll in a skill check (so if you have 2D in Agility, and 1D+1 in Drive (agility-derived) you’d roll a total of 3D+1 for drive checks).

The game also has a special attribute, Faith. This is an important mechanic for this particular game; your faith determines your access to special “prayers” which are essentially spell-like abilities. Connected to this are a mechanic called Conviction points; you can spend a point of conviction to add your Faith score to a single skill or attribute roll.  Aside from this, Conviction can also be used to remove damage or to have a moment of “divine inspiration” where you get some kind of a clue in a tricky situation. Spending Conviction points for irreligious purposes will gain you Sin Points, which act as penalties to all faith rolls and further conviction points gained must go to wiping out these Sin points.

The game mechanics also feature disadvantages (called “Complications”). These are chosen by the player from a list (my absolute least favorite way of handling disadvantages), and overcoming these complications in some way during play earns you more conviction points. Complications include things like “anti-social”, “bounty”, “criminal past”, “unsolved case”, etc. Every PC gets to pick 2 different complications, meaning that in a standard group there’s going to be a lot of interrupting the game with issues personal to specific PCs in a regular basis.

Its up to the GM whether players belong to the same agency or different ones; there is an “Agency” attribute that represents a person’s influence within their Agency; this is mainly used for access to resources.

There’s a short but acceptable list of weapons, armor and other equipment, and the system for dealing with this is abstract; rather than keeping track of money there’s a “resources” skill that one would roll to obtain an item.

Combat in the game is relatively straightforward; with characters rolling their combat-related skills against their opponent’s fixed defensive values (block, dodge, or parry), which are calculated by a formula. There are some simple rules for special modifiers (things like ranges), or for special actions (like doing multiple attacks, full defense, grappling, etc). Rolling a “double success” in combat allows a character to choose from a specific list of special critical effects; its also possible that if one fails to hit by half or less of an opponent’s defensive value, this gives the opponent an “opportunity” maneuver, which can be a counterattack or special maneuver.

Damages in combat are by weapon, with ranged weapons having their own damage values and melee weapons adding a bonus to a character’s Might attribute for damage determination.  The damage roll must exceed an opponents Soak value (another derived defensive stat) in order to have effect. Damage is calculated as “wound levels” with each level giving increasing penalties to all actions, causing a death-spiral effect.

Very interestingly, for a game about assassins, and unlike many other games about assassins, this book actually dedicates a whole chapter of rules on assassination! Its funny that this seems to me like a radical concept, but really I have to praise the author for this, given that its so rarely seen. The chapter deals with a number of mechanics to govern stealth, surprise, silence and a mechanic for teamwork in planning and executing assassinations; as well as assassination techniques for drowning, falling, fire, vehicular manslaughter, electrocution, poison, and booby traps.

The chapter on “Faith” mostly provides a list of “prayers” which a person can gain and use with their Faith attribute.  Characters gain new prayers by spending advancement points on them, and prayers all have a difficulty number that must be checked on Faith in order to succeed.  Prayers can do things like see the true form of Nephilim (that’s the one prayer all PCs start with), generate light, turn wine into water, passing unseen, speak with animals, walk on water, exorcise Nephilim from their physical form, healing, protection, resist fire, create (or quell storms), or even raise the dead, among other prayers.
The section on Agencies is quite complete as well, providing 8 detailed agencies the PCs could belong to, all of them very interesting.  These include one that is a modern CIA-type organization, a Christian religious monastic order, an order composed entirely of resurrected former killers who have repented and converted to faith, a British secret agency connected to MI6, a very old Jewish agency, a Muslim agency directly descended from the “Hashashins”, an agency of (persecuted) Chinese Christians, and a German group born out of a Christian anti-Nazi resistance movement in WWII.  There are guidelines for inter-agency co-operation and for what a GM should consider in making their own agency.

The chapter on the Nephilim details the main enemies of the game, covering about 12 pages.  It details their nature and structure, and explains that the Nephilim are the embodiment of sin (they venerate sin itself). Rules are provided for how to generate Nephilim NPCs, their special powers (based on the Favor (of satan) rather than Faith in a supreme being), and their special abilities.  Nephilim follow a Path (each based on a particular sin; so there’s the path of Blasphemy, Deceipt, Defilement, Greed, Ignorance, Lust, Oppression, Self-destruction, Treachery, and Violence), and each path will provide a Nephilim with different special abilities. For each path, a sample Nephilim statblock is provided.
The section on “missions” provides some general GM-guidelines for how a mission should be structured, as well as lists and stats for sample NPCs, and some “mission hooks” (short descriptions of potential adventures).

On the whole, I was very impressed with this game.  The system is quite sound; I don’t generally care for the D6 system much, but this version of it fits the game very well; and obviously anyone who does like the D6 system will be very pleased with this game’s use of it.  The setting, while very narrow in scope, is quite interesting and well-written, it has a lot of creative elements without getting tacky or gimmicky, and as an “occult” game it has a perspective that doesn’t quite match anything else out there yet.

Downsides? Well, as I mentioned above, its possible that some gamers might not care for playing very religious (Judeo-Christian) PCs, and in this game you’re obliged to do so. Also, while the game does offer a lot of variety, there’s only so much you can put into a single concept and 80 pages of game-text, so I could imagine that ultimately it would become repetitive in very long-term play; the author certainly goes out of his way to give the Nephilim diversity and provide a lot of very interesting and varied concepts for adventures, but at the end of the day it is still a single-focus game, where you’re playing one type of PC and fighting one specific type of opponent, and the game isn’t really made for anything else.

Within that, however, if you find the concept itself interesting, you will likely be able to get a very good run of enjoyment from Heaven’s Shadow.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Gawith’s Navy Flake

(originally posted June 22, 2013, on the old blog)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Historical Blinders in the Origin Story of the OSR

So I happened to notice the other day that an OSR blogger came up with a list of "OSR release dates", as a "timeline" for a series on "OSR for the lapsed gamer", presumably meant to be an orderly explanation of what the OSR is, where it came from, etc.

Now, I just have to say that, from a historiographical standpoint, it reads a bit to me like someone creating a history, rather than an accurate portrayal of history.  It looks at the rise of old-school gaming from the perspective of the OSRIC project and Dragonfoot forums, which obviously was an important part of things, but was far from what helped old-school take off.

It may be unfair, you might think, to criticize what is obviously a very reduced list; but even the link in that blog to a much larger list seems to suffer from the same mistake: it has historical blinders, seeking to imagine that the whole Old-school Revival was exclusively started and owes its success to people wanting to precisely mimic and clone old D&D rule-sets.  You could say this is a case of "Revenge of the Clones", where although Clonemania has long since fallen out of favor, now the goal is to suggest that this was the real and true heart and essence of what the revival of Old-school gaming was (and perhaps what it should be?) about.

But you see, I was there too. And I remember it quite differently.  OSRIC was of tremendous interest to a tiny group of "grognards" who seemed to have relatively very little interest (at that time) in spreading the word anywhere and would likely have been relegated to a tiny corner of history were it not for some other important events that took place, and releases of games, that fueled people's imaginations.

Back in 2006, I (and most other people) might have had some vague idea that there was a group of obsessives that were trying to reverse-engineer AD&D 1e without violating copyright, and that for some damn reason they named their project after one of the lesser-known Princes of Amber.  But that wasn't exciting us, or most anyone.

No, what was getting a whole bunch of people outside that little circle interested in Old-School in a big way was something called Encounter Critical.

It had alleged to be a "rediscovered" very small-print RPG from the late 70s that was ridiculous in its Gonzo qualities; at the time, though many took it at its word, I thought it was just too perfectly nostalgic to be real.  And sure enough, it turned out to be a hoax, written by the incredible S. John Ross, who was destined to be a future co-Consultant of mine on the 5e project.

The thought of re-making an exact identical copy of AD&D 1e might have been getting the boys at dragonsfoot all wet, but pretty well everywhere else, people were really fucking excited about Encounter Critical.

And about Mazes and Minotaurs. Also released in 2006, this was a brand new RPG that alleged to be a "new edition" of a classic old-school game (that never actually existed).  It was the first OSR-Variant, a game that looked at the original D&D rules and then tweaked them in a way that totally fit old-school sensibilities but that had never actually been imagined in the 1970s.  In M&M's case, it was to say "let's take D&D but assume it is inspired by Greek Mythology instead of medieval fantasy".

So what's curious about our 'instructive' lists of an 'OSR timeline' above?  You'll note that neither of the lists actually have either Encounter Critical or Mazes & Minotaurs on them.
This in spite of the fact that BOTH of these games came out 1-2 years BEFORE OSRIC actually came out in its full form. They got a shitload of people excited (or re-excited) about old-school style and play before anyone had heard of the seemingly-endless march of precise copies of games people already owned.

But I guess that's the point: there's a certain interest, I think, in wanting to make it appear like what "owns" the OSR, what "made" it, was the Clonemania.  Like the whole point was the mindless endless rehashing of old ground, rather than being excited about the challenge of unleashing spectacular new creativity within the boundaries and landmarks of Old-School design.

So I thought I'd remind the Clonemaniacs of an inconvenient truth: the OSR-Variants came first. They not only ended up being what people were excited about more than Clones, they were what caught people's imaginations BEFORE the Clones (temporarily) hijacked the OSR.  And without them, the whole of the OSR might still just be a couple of dozen guys on dragonsfoot.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday, 25 September 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Forgive Us

This is a review of "Forgive Us", an adventure (actually, one full-length adventure and a couple of micro-adventures) for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG.  It was published by LotFP, and written by Kelvin Green, who apparently also did the illustrations.  The main adventure is ostensibly designed for 4th level characters.

Its a softcover book, 45 pages long in all, of the standard size for LotFP books (that is, small in height compared to most other RPG books). The front and back covers have illustrations in black, white and red, while the interior art is entirely black and white.  I have to say, it might have been a bad call for Mr. Green to do his own art; its one thing if you're Zak S. doing Vornheim or whatever (his art style may be odd, but no one can doubt its quality), but Green's is just average.
Yeah, not shitty, average.  The problem is that LotFP consistently creates really above-average art for its products.  Green's art would probably not look off in a lot of OSR products, but here it kind of surprised me; my impression at first glance just looking at the cover was to think "wait, this is an LotFP book?!"

Anyways, all that matters only to the degree to which you give a fuck about art in an RPG product, and I don't very much.   So let's look instead at the content itself.

As I said above, there are technically three adventures in the book, but the latter two would count, at best, as micro-adventures.  They are each only five pages long, and both are what you could call 'nega-adventures', in the sense that they're a trap for adventurers, and even in the best of circumstances provide no treasure (well, the second of the two provides an utterly negligible amount of treasure).  They're pretty well forgettable.
While keeping with my policy of not revealing spoilers in adventures, I can say that the premise of these two are, in the first case, a village with the promise of some treasure seems to have some kind of strange problem with a ghost. The author tries to claim that its inspired by "silent hill", seriously, I don't think it does nearly as good a job of that as Pete Spahn's less-contrived less-pretentious "Inn of Lost Heroes" did.
In the second case, the death of an old friend leads to a rumour that he'd hidden some kind of treasure before his demise; his daughter has gone missing and some 'tax collectors' that don't seem like tax collectors at all have come looking for money that they say the deceased stole.  In both cases, there is a complete red herring and a situation that leaves the PCs either a little screwed, or very screwed.

With those 10 pages out of the way, that leaves us the first 35 pages and the main title adventure.

The main adventure is centered on the PCs arriving at a situation that is to a certain degree already halfway messed up.  A gang of thieves stole something from some powerful people, but when they got back to their headquarters to check out the loot they accidentally unleashed.. something.  The thieves closed up their base (which consists of a number of interconnected buildings that take up an entire town block) in a valiant effort to prevent the spread of the monstrous thing they had unleashed, even though it was at the cost of their lives.

By the time the PCs show up, no one has seen or heard from the thieves in quite some time; its assumed the PCs will enter the thieves' complex, either out of altruism or motivated by the possibility of helping themselves to the thieves' treasure (and unlike the other adventures, and many of LotFP's adventures, there actually IS potential treasure to be had there!); and at this point they will find a series of macabre scenes that lead to a terrible confrontation with the horror the thieves unleashed.

The adventure itself is, in many ways, more traditional than many of LotFP's products.  It follows a pretty familiar structure, it has a dungeon style layout, combat encounters (some of which are very tough, but ultimately survivable), and interesting monsters.   On the whole, considerably better than I would have hoped!

I should mention that all three adventures are theoretically set in the vicinity of Norwich in 1625; but really, there's little that would prevent it from being set in most any typical setting.  Unlike certain other LotFP adventures, there isn't even a particularly heavy element of religious details that would require conversion.

So, on the whole: while there's about 10 pages that didn't really need to be there, and while the art is not up to the usual LotFP standard, on the whole the main 35-pages or so of "Forgive Us" proves to be an adventure that is likely to have the right mix of creepy while still being noticeably D&D, and not just a 'negadungeon'.  This is one worth checking out for that.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Arrows of Indra's Big RPGNow Comeback, Plus: Enlightenment Powers!

So I've been informed that since Arrows of Indra was recently relaunched by Bedrock Games (after Bedrock decided to switch to self-distribution of PDFs, forcing a clean sweep and reposting of all their PDFs on rpgnow), it has been doing very well indeed.  Part of what might be assisting that is the new lower price on the PDF, made possible due to Bedrock's savings from their new distribution.

It did so well it was briefly back on the top-20 list of "hot games" this month.  So, if you haven't picked up Arrows yet, please check it out on RPGnow!  Also, since we lost all the reviews, if you do pick it up and give it a read, please consider writing a small (or large) review for us!

Today I'll talk about Enlightenment powers.  This is the second half of the "magic system" of Arrows of Indra.
Priests and Siddhis (magicians) get a small list of pretty hefty spells they can use as part of their class skills; these are gained (potentially) at each level.  Some of them, particularly those on the advanced skills list, are quite powerful but they also require 'components' to use: a priest's Arcana skills are all done in ritual form and cannot be used, say, in the middle of combat.  A siddhi's powers mostly depend on the recitation of mantras or the use of mudras (gestures).  On the other hand, Enlightenment Powers are gained purely as a reflection of breakthroughs in the PC's spiritual consciousness, and can be used without the aid of any outside ceremony or aids.  It is assumed that these abilities are gained from all the time the PC spends in meditation/prayer/devotion/etc. during downtime between adventures.

(while the fighters and thieves are getting drunk on palm wine like suckers, the siddhi is tripping balls and having visions of Ganesh in his inner consciousness!)

In any case, what completes their set of magic are the Enlightenment powers, which characters begin to potentially gain from level 2 onward.  Each time a priest or siddhi goes up in level, they get to do a check to see if they've gained one or more enlightenment powers.  There are three ranks of enlightenment powers, and from 2nd level onward you get to check with each level gain for the chance to gain a rank 1 or rank 2 power, while from 5th level onward you get to also check for a rank 3 power.  The percentage chance of gaining a power starts out small, but goes up as the character advances in level. The chance is also modified by the character's main attribute (wisdom for priests, intelligence for siddhis), and the intelligence attribute determines the maximum number of powers of each rank that a character can have.

This method makes magic quite a bit less predictable than in standard D&D; since in most other old-school games you know exactly how many spells you'll be able to cast at level 3, say.  But in Arrows of Indra, a 3rd level human siddhi, depending on his choices or rolls for class skills and his rolls for enlightenment powers, could end up having as few as (very theoretically and extremely unlikely) 0 magical abilities (if he got only knowledge-type class skills and failed to get any enlightenment powers at level 2 or three) or as many as 7 abilities (if through extreme luck he got magical class skills every time he rolled on the class skill table and generated enlightenment powers every time he rolled; he'd end up having 3 class skill spells, 2 rank 1 enlightenment powers, and 2 rank 2 enlightenment powers).

Some enlightenment powers will be fairly familiar to OSR-gamers in their similarity to standard magic-user or cleric spells:

Rank 1
Aura of light:  The Pc creates an aura of illumination around him that provides light (equivalent to clear daylight) at a radius of 30 feet around him. It lasts for one hour or until the Pc wishes to stop the effect.

Rank 2
Curing Disease: By laying his hands on a single creature, the PC can cure that creature of any diseases, including magically-induced disease.  This power can cure the Rotting Curse. 

Rank 3:
Prana Arrows:  The PC using this power directs his own prana like a volley of arrows at his intended victims.  These arrows fly out striking truly against the particular victims he has chosen.  He can choose up to 6 victims, they must all be within 120 feet of the PC.  Each victim must make a saving throw versus magic or suffer 1d6 points of damage per level of the PC; even if they make their saving throw, they still suffer half damage.

Others, however, may seem less familiar:

Rank 1
Gaze of Insanity:  This power allows the PC to make a single creature go insane.  The intended victim must be within 30 feet of the PC, and must fail a saving throw versus magic for the power to take effect. The power cannot affect any creature that does not have a mind, nor can it affect Devas, Asuras, or the living dead.  The creature who fails becomes permanently insane (unless magically cured) and will act randomly as per the GM's direction (in a combat situation, there should be a roughly equal chance on any given round that the creature will attack an enemy, attack and ally, do nothing but babble incoherently, or run away screaming madly).

Rank 2
Nadi-Disrupting Gaze: "Nadi" literally means "river", but here it refers to the channel of energy through which life-force flows in the physical body.  This powerful gaze must be directed at a creature that has a nervous system (artificial creatures or the living dead, for example, are unaffected).  The victim of the gaze must be within 60 feet.  The victim immediately takes 2d6 points of damage (no save) and must additionally make a saving throw versus magic or they will become paralyzed from the waist down, unable to walk or use their legs.  The effect is permanent, but can be removed with the "Curing Disease" power, the Arcana of Purification, or the Aura of Annulling Magic.

Rank 3
Directed Reincarnation:  This power must be used on someone who has been dead for less than 7 days.
The power must be used in the same place where the person has died, though it is not relevant if the body is there anymore. It can be used even on the spirits of people who have been completely disintegrated. Using this power, the PC may direct that person to their next incarnation, choosing in what form they will be reborn.
The limitations are that someone may not be reborn as a Deva in the heavenly realms of Devaloka unless they were of Holy alignment, nor can they be reborn as an Asura in the hell realms of Naraka unless they were of Unholy alignment. Someone reborn as either of these will be “born” fully grown, and will immediately remember their previous incarnation and will be aware that it was the Pc who directed their incarnation into a new body (it is up to them whether they choose to do anything about it, however). Other than these two choices, the  PC may choose to direct the reincarnation into the form of a Ghost (who will also be born “fully grown”, usually in the same spot he died, and aware of their past
incarnation); or as a Naga or Raskshasa in the underworld of Patala, or a Yaksha or Gandharva near Mount Kailash, as an animal of any kind (including a Vanara), or as a human being (including a Bhil or any kind of barbarian). In all of the latter cases (Naga, Rakshasa, Yaksha, Gandharva, animal or human), the reincarnated soul will not remember his previous incarnation, and will have to grow up at the normal rate for his species.
The PC will know in all of these cases the specific body into which his target has reincarnated. This power can also be used by the PC on himself, when he is dying (including using it within 1 round after his own death), to direct his own reincarnation. Once reincarnation has been directed in this way, no form of resurrection is possible on the deceased.

Want more?  Check out Arrows of Indra, on PDF or in print!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Horn + Gawith's Perfection

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Real Nature of New Atheism

I read a fantastic article in The Atlantic a few days back, which detailed how a moderate christian group is doing a study on college atheists, to try to understand what leads people away from religion and into atheism.  They’re doing it with a religious goal in mind of course (though they claim that their goal is to “bridge the gap as gently and respectfully as possible”), but that doesn’t exactly invalidate the nature of what they’ve found.

And what they found was fascinating.  You see there that almost all the young atheists interviewed would CLAIM that they came to atheism through a process of “logical deduction”, reason, science, etc.  Ie. that it was a pure and objective intellectual analysis that has led them to conclude that they can not only state a lack of belief but make a positive statement of disbelief about the existence of any kind of supreme being.

In practice, though, the foundation discovered a common median pattern among American college-age “New atheists”:
1. they had gone to church as children.
2. They felt somehow unsatisfied with their church experience. In many cases, they had experienced some kind of very positive early impression only to later encounter some kind of frustration with their particular church.
3. They felt the “answers” their churches offered weren’t sufficiently profound.
4. Many of them expressed profound respect for ministers who took their religion seriously (and were, conversely, disillusioned by people in positions of authority in their church who seemed shallow).
5. Almost all of them left their religion between the ages of 14-17.
6. Almost all of them had some kind of key emotional incident that occurred at the time they left their religious institution behind.
7. They cited the Internet as a main source for discovery about Atheism.

So, in short, this article presents what I’ve been saying about New Atheism for quite some time. Namely, that these sorts of aggressive atheists are not actually people who have “thought things through”, they’re people who have had an emotional experience that led them to react negatively, not to god, but to organized religion, and more often christianity, and very often a specific type of christianity they were brought up in. They try to hide behind science, but what they’ve had is clearly a “conversion experience”, and for emotional reasons they have chosen to embrace an irrational statement of positive disbelief to make up for what they now think of as previously-irrational belief.

The thing is, these experiences, or at least points 1-6, are something that would very much fit my own history; and indeed, by the time I was 16 I was a staunchly avowed atheist.  As it turns out, I outgrew that. I came to realize that my it wasn’t that I was now sure or could be sure that god didn’t exist because he didn’t personally take care of making everything nice for me; and that really my problem was not that “religion is stupid and pointless”, but that the particular religious environment I was in was stupid, it was one that encouraged shallow thinking.  I didn’t want to reject the spiritual, I wanted the profound experiences that I felt cheated out of by a milquetoast church that was full of sleepy not-really-practitioners or mindless-bigots and answered to a bloated corrupt temporal hierarchy.  So after growing up out of exoteric religion, which is mostly dumb, I grew up out of atheism too, which is just as dumb; and then I discovered the spiritual virtue of being able to say “I don’t know”, followed by “but I’m going to try damn hard to find out, and I won’t take anyone else’s word for it”.  Instead of abandoning god, I abandoned belief, which is the barrier to Truth (and this of course includes the “god” of my beliefs, along with everyone else’s).  It strikes me that New Atheists have abandoned the God of their childhood sundays, but have clung steadfastly in the best of late-adolescent fashion to the God of Their Own Beliefs, re-labeling him as “science”, when he’s anything but.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H’s Beverwyck

(originally posted June 18th, 2013, on the old blog)